Heman Chong

Selection of Foreign Affairs and Abstracts from the Straits Times (both 2018– )

UV Prints on Canvas, 130cm x 200cm

vert Foreign Affairs #59 (2018)
Image courtesy of the artist

Foreign Affairs is a series of banal photographs of embassy backdoors. The systematic repetition of images simultaneously recalls a cinematic frame and the omnipresence of the surveillance camera. This cumulative representation of embassy backdoor makes apparent the very form of the non-descript embassy backdoor and its component parts: greenery as camouflage, the lone face of a strategically positioned surveillance camera, the additional lock or additional gates. These representations, though banal, describe the physical infrastructures of our politics; for they represent the threshold of the exceptional space of the embassy, which in and of itself is the physical manifestation of an agreement between two states of respective sovereignty.

On the other hand, Abstracts from the Straits Times is a series of repetitive abstractions from the Singaporean daily newspaper, the Straits Times. In this selection, Chong distinctly points at the infrastructural stresses such as declining population growth, and flooding affecting Singapore.

Placed alongside one another, Foreign Affairs and Abstracts from the Straits Times speak to the sites of infrastructural power in society today. They implicitly point to society’s fears of ‘back door’ agreements, actors invisibly and insidiously pulling the strings behind the veil of the everyday.  As representations of information, the images of the two different series reflect both the front and back stage upon which fears of conflict and calamity are produced.

Infrastructure has been described as the “overt point of contact and access, where the underlying rules of the world can be clasped in the space of Everyday life”. Infrastructures are, by design, made to be banal and invisible as part of their everyday operations. Chong’s oeuvre can be read as an imagining, interrogation and sometimes intervention into infrastructure as an everyday medium of politics. His works are ecological systems that take on diverse forms such as the book, the painting, the performance, the magazine advertisement, the party, the process of writing a novel, the social contract of an exhibition, etc. The selection from Foreign Affairs and Abstracts from the Straits Times, as presented in A Fear of Monsters, casts a shrewd lens upon how the world and our fear of what lies behind the curtain of the everyday is produced.

Heman Chong is an artist whose work is located at the intersection between image, performance, situations and writing. His practice has had many lives through a diversity of mediums such as video installations, performances, paintings and conceptual interventions in mass media. He has held solo exhibitions at Art Sonje Center (Never, A Dull Moment, 2015), South London Gallery (An Arm, A Leg and Other Stories, 2015), Rockbund Art Museum (Ifs, Ands, Or Buts, 2016), 72-13 (Because, the Night, 2017), Calle Wright (Never is a Promise, 2018), Rossi & Rossi (Abstracts from The Straits Times, 2018), Swiss Institute (Legal Bookshop (Shanghai), 2018). He is the co-director and founder (with Renée Staal) of ‘The Library of Unread Books’ which has been installed in NTU Center for Contemporary Art in Singapore, The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) in Manila, Casco in Utrecht, and Kunstverein Milano in Milan. He is currently working on a novel ‘The Book of Drafts’ which will be published by Polyparenthesis in 2019.

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